Biz start-up program lands $1.5M grant



BAR HARBOR — College of the Atlantic (COA) has received a $1.5 million grant from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation to create an endowment for the school’s Sustainable Enterprise Hatchery.

The Hatchery promotes entrepreneurship by helping students turn their innovative ideas into practical, sustainable enterprises.

Income from the Spencer Foundation endowment will cover the costs of operations, outreach, a program manager and $5,000 in seed capital for each student who is admitted to the program.

“For us, this is huge because it gives us secure and stable funding to continue advancing this program,” said Jay Friedlander, founder and chairman of the sustainable business program at COA.

“To say that we are grateful is an understatement. This is really game changing, and it’s an incredible recognition of what our faculty, students and staff have been doing.”

Friedlander described the program as a “sustainable enterprise accelerator” and said its name is being changed to the Diana Davis Spencer Hatchery.

COA President Darron Collins said the purpose of the Hatchery is in perfect alignment with the college’s mission and culture.

“Entrepreneurship is one of the key threads that runs through our people here; it’s kind of baked into our DNA,” Collins said.

“The students who come here want to do something different. They’re entrepreneurial learners, adventurous learners.”

Collins said entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be about developing a product or starting a business; it can be coming up with an artistic venture or a plan for a sustainable livelihood.

“This grant will allow those kinds of things to really flourish,” Collins said of the Spencer Foundation endowment.

The foundation focuses primarily on supporting entrepreneurship and private enterprise.

“College of the Atlantic is really a leader in promoting entrepreneurial initiatives,” said Diana Davis Spencer, president of the foundation that bears her name.

“Our foundation’s signature is to embrace the entrepreneurial mindset. Now, in the 21st century, it’s particularly important to imbue students with this out-of-the-box kind of thinking.

“Looking at the complexities of the world today, we realize that you have to be innovative and entrepreneurial, so we ought to be teaching it. And the best way to teach it is through experiential learning.”

COA students, either individually or in small teams, compete for admission to the Hatchery by submitting summaries of their business plans. The successful ones are those whose plans best address the triple objectives of profitability, social responsibility and environmental benefit.

The Hatchery admits six to eight “ventures” a year. Faculty members provide instruction in critical areas for creating an enterprise, and professionals in a variety of fields serve as volunteer mentors. Students have 10 weeks to market-test and develop prototypes for their ventures. Each student or team receives up to $5,000 as start-up capital.

Friedlander said a unique feature of the Hatchery is that it allows students to “create for credit.” They receive academic credit for working on their entrepreneurial enterprises.

“You can start a venture because of your education rather than in spite of your education,” Friedlander said.

Calling that “revolutionary,” he said, “We’ve gotten inquiries from schools around the country that are looking at what we’re doing.”

The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation is based in Bethesda, Md. Spencer is a longtime Northeast Harbor summer resident. Her mother, the late Kathryn W. Davis, was a major COA benefactor.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. dbroom@mdislander.com

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